June 6, earlier this week, marked Global Running Day!
Here are our 25 favorite running books…
Divided into these four genres…
John L. Parker, Jr.
Originally self-published in 1978, Once a Runner captures the essence of competitive running—and of athletic competition in general—and has become one of the most beloved sports novels ever published.
Inspired by the author’s experience as a collegiate champion, the story focuses on Quenton Cassidy, a competitive runner at fictional Southeastern University whose lifelong dream is to run a four-minute mile. He is less than a second away when the turmoil of the Vietnam War era intrudes into the staid recesses of his school’s athletic department. After he becomes involved in an athletes’ protest, Cassidy is suspended from his track team. Under the tutelage of his friend and mentor, Bruce Denton, a graduate student and former Olympic gold medalist, Cassidy gives up his scholarship, his girlfriend, and possibly his future to withdraw to a monastic retreat in the countryside and begin training for the race of his life against the greatest miler in history.
Following his brilliant portrait of Maurice Ravel, Jean Echenoz turns to the life of one of the greatest runners of the twentieth century, and once again demonstrates his astonishing abilities as a prose stylist. Set against the backdrop of the Soviet liberation and post–World War II communist rule of Czechoslovakia, Running— a bestseller in France—follows the famed career of Czech runner Emil Zátopek: a factory worker who, despite an initial contempt for athletics as a young man, is forced to participate in a footrace and soon develops a curious passion for the physical limits he discovers as a long-distance runner.
Zátopek, who tenaciously invents his own brutal training regimen, goes on to become a national hero, winning an unparalleled three gold medals at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and breaking countless world records along the way. But just as his fame brings him upon the world stage, he must face the realities of an increasingly controlling regime.
Running the Rift follows the progress of Jean Patrick Nkuba from the day he knows that running will be his life to the moment he must run to save his life. A naturally gifted athlete, he sprints over the thousand hills of Rwanda and dreams of becoming his country’s first Olympic medal winner in track. But Jean Patrick is a Tutsi in a world that has become increasingly restrictive and violent for his people. As tensions mount between the Hutu and Tutsi, he holds fast to his dream that running might deliver him, and his people, from the brutality around them. Winner of the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, Naomi Benaron has written a stunning and gorgeous novel that–through the eyes of one unforgettable boy–explores a country’s unraveling, its tentative new beginning, and the love that binds its people together.
From the author of the bestselling Snow Falling on Cedars, a coming-of-age novel that presents two powerfully different visions of what it means to live a good life and the compromises that come with fulfillment.
John William Barry and Neil Countryman shared a love of the outdoors, trekking often into Washington’s remote backcountry where they had to rely on their wits—and each other—to survive. Soon after graduating from college, Neil sets out on a path that will lead him toward a life as a devoted schoolteacher and family man. But John William makes a radically different choice, dropping out of college and moving deep into the woods. When he enlists Neil to help him disappear completely, Neil finds himself drawn into a web of agonizing responsibility, deceit, and tragedy—one that will finally break open with a wholly unexpected, life-altering revelation.
“An intriguing novel concerning the metaphysics of sport, and of excellence in general. The protagonist is Colin Warnock–a miler at a college in Belfast who is almost too introspective for his own good. When he begins to wonder about the psychic state that is conducive to victory, Warnock finds himself unable to achieve it. Mr. Price does several good things in this novel, which makes the running of a minus-four-minute mile a symbolic act that represents the effort of any man ‘to surpass himself.’ He isolates and interweaves the influences on the athlete: the image of a famous father, an idyllic love affair, friendship with a bitter professor, and his peppery Scottish coach. He paints in just enough of the damp Ulster landscape to give his book a unique flavor. And he describes magnificently the competition of running, in an inspired mixture of what the spectator sees and what a runner like Warnock feels.” –The New York Times Book Review
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a modern classic about integrity, courage, and bucking the system. Its title story recounts the story of a reform school cross-country runner who seizes the perfect opportunity to defy the authority that governs his life. It is a pure masterpiece.
Wendelin Van Draanen
Jessica thinks her life is over when she loses a leg in a car accident. She’s not comforted by the news that she’ll be able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg. Who cares about walking when you live to run? As she struggles to cope, Jessica feels that she’s both in the spotlight and invisible. People who don’t know what to say act like she’s not there. Jessica’s embarrassed to realize that she’s done the same to a girl with CP named Rosa. A girl who is going to tutor her through all the math she’s missed. A girl who sees right into the heart of her.
With the support of family, friends, a coach, and her track teammates, Jessica may actually be able to run again. But that’s not enough for her now. She doesn’t just want to cross finish lines herself—she wants to take Rosa with her.